A student friar recently shared his thoughts about the conversion he is undergoing as he advocates for care for creation and feels hope by watching young people and by learning to live simply.
Throughout this fall’s Season of Creation – from Sept. 1 to Oct. 4 — I found myself engaged in various ways with what Pope Francis calls for in Laudato Si – an “ecological conversion.” In my own spiritual life, this has meant evaluating my relationship with the environment and the creatures around me, with an openness to change my behaviors and attitudes. It has helped me to come to appreciate the dignity of all of God’s creation and to understand that everything that has been created has a value that is independent of its usefulness.
Our community of mostly student friars in Chicago recently held discussions about the pope’s encyclical on Care for Our Common Home and practical ways that we can live with ecological sensitivity. We are raising our awareness of single-use items and how much trash is contained in the packaging of items around our home, in an effort to address the throwaway culture which Francis names as one root cause for our current environmental crisis.
We’re also paying attention to our need to pray for creation and to talk about care for creation in homilies and other liturgical settings. For instance, I planned prayer for the morning of the International Climate Strike last month and used Psalms 104 and 69. In praying Psalm 69, we considered “the cry of the earth,” and put the Psalmist’s lament in the voice of Mother Earth:
“Save me, God,
For the waters have reached my neck.
I have sunk into the mire of the deep,
Where there is no foothold.
I have gone down to the watery depths;
The flood overwhelms me…”
Our Franciscan tradition, of course, offers the Canticle of the Creatures as an excellent spiritual resource toward our realization that “everything is connected,” a statement that lies at the heart of ecological conversion.
While each of us is individually challenged to live more harmoniously with the world around us, we also recognize that our small efforts pale in comparison with the need for corporate responsibility. Our planet needs leadership to enact policies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect habitats from industrial pollution.
I can recall learning about the threat of rising global temperatures when I was in seventh grade. That was 1997, more than 20 years ago. My generation, it seems, has done too little to stem the tide of global warming, as temperatures and sea levels continue to rise. But a younger generation has taken up this cause, and they are speaking out.
This year, on Sept. 20, I joined several brothers from our house, along with students and faculty of the Catholic Theological Union and Catholics from across the Archdiocese of Chicago in our local chapter of the International Climate Strike, the event organized by local students in conjunction with young people around the globe. This was an opportunity for us to call upon political leadership, locally and globally, to take action to protect our common home. “The waters are rising,” a popular protest slogan states, “and so are we.”
One of the many posters I saw at the climate march was an image of the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, stylized to look like the 2008 Obama campaign poster captioned “Hope.” It’s been a powerful image for me because it speaks to the great hope that I have in the younger generation – young people who are empowered and passionate about making our planet a better place for all of creation.
Taking Environmental Issues Seriously
The poster and seeing the many young people advocating to help the earth also makes me lament the fact that so much responsibility has been placed on the shoulders of teenagers like Greta and many other young people who are organizing these climate strikes. In her address to the U.N., Greta emphatically stated that her childhood had been stolen by the inaction of the world’s governments. In that accusation, I believe that there is a challenge that should resound within the walls of our churches and Franciscan fraternities. We, the followers of the patron saint of ecology, have not been silent on environmental issues, but there is clearly more work to be done. We need to step up and do our part to protect our common home.
Global climate change is already affecting the lives of the poor, as we see in the cases of climate refugees. Moreover, the threats of a global environmental catastrophe are very much on the minds of students everywhere. If the Catholic faith is going to speak to this generation, its ministers need to take environmental issues as seriously as they do.
Drawing from our Franciscan heritage, I am being challenged by the Greta Thunbergs of the world to lead an authentic life in communion with the creation. I’m challenged to preach an ecological lifestyle, using words when necessary. Living as simply as I can, and praying as fervently as I can, is part of that lifestyle – and God knows I need improvement! Standing in solidarity with students advocating for change is also part of that lifestyle. I thank God for their witness and their challenge.
Aaron Richardson, OFM, a friar in post-novitiate formation living in Chicago, is studying for his master’s in divinity at the Catholic Theological Union. He professed his first vows in 2016. The previous reflection published in HNP Today, written by Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, was titled “Migration and Climate Change.”
Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic — a holiday, current event, holy day, or other seasonal themes – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office. Additional reflections by friars can be found in the Spiritual Resources page of HNP.org. Information about climate change can be found on the Justice and Peace page of the HNP.org website.
- “Signs of the Times’: Threats to Earth’s Environment” – April 1, 2016, HNP Today
- “Post-novitiate Community Settles into Chicago” – Jan. 18, 2017, HNP Today
- “Franciscan Order Announces Plans for ‘Laudato Si’” — Oct. 8, 2015, HNP Today